Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Vicious Valentine

"The Night of the Vicious Valentine"
Written by Leigh Chapman
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: Some of the nation's wealthiest men are being murdered in a methodical fashion. West and Gordon realize that all the men have been recently married, which leads them to society dame and matchmaker, Emma Valentine, who has a plot to take over the country.

Trey: I like this episode a lot. It's got most of the ingredients I've previously outlined:  high conception locations, colorful masterminds (and colorful henchmen) with dodgy plans, Artie in disguise, technology advanced for the sixties, barely lampshaded for the 1870s, and attractive ladies. 

For some reason, the episodes with this sort of format vary in quality, but they always tend to be ones that allow Gordon pretty equally partnership with West, and this is no exception.

Jim: I'm a sucker for villains that utilize some theme in their crimes, so the premise of the Alphabet Murders really appeals to me.

The initial exchange between West and Valentine is interesting because you can almost see Robert Conrad "remember" he's supposed to be emoting as Moorehead steals the scene.  Kidding aside, I'm amazed with how well she uses her body and facial movements during the scene. It makes me wish she had reappeared in an episode alongside Michael Dunn. 

Trey: Morehead did get a Emmy nomination for this episode. Yes, it's a shame we didn't get that Loveless/Valentine team-up. The ending of this episode suggests they at least considered bringing her back.

Jim: I was also impressed with the colorful outfits the costume designer put on Moorehead (and her charges) in during the whole episode. It's interesting though, because such lavish dresses don't really seem to jive with Valentine's philosophies. She strikes me as favoring equestrian wear while waving a riding crop. 

Trey: Ha! Well, it's funny, watching from 2021, her goals seem more sympathetic than they likely did in the '60s, even if we must still deplore her methods and (like Loveless) her desire for a dictatorship, however benevolent or enlightened. It is likely no coincidence this episode was written by woman.

Besides Moorehead, we should note the presence of Sherry Jackson, who we may recognize from the Star Trek episode "Shore Leave."

Jim: I thought I recognized her! 

Trey: One element interesting element, and one that shows the evolution of my thinking about WWW, is the irrelevant inclusion of Valentine's dating computer! True, it's there to show her genius, but it doesn't really have much of a role to play besides that one scene. 

Jim: Yeah, that dating computer is an odd element. I feel like it either should have been a more integral part of the plot or ditched altogether. 

Trey: And prior to this rewatch I would have agreed with you! I'm not sure, now. It's inclusion makes the world of Wild Wild West not our world, but in a rather unobtrusive way. I like that sort of thing; more now than when I first saw this episode.  

So, anyway, what's your pitch for a Valentine-Loveless team-up?

Jim: "The Night of the Loveless Valentine" West and Gordon are invited to a very special wedding!

Trey: Anyone at CBS reading this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Tartar

"The Night of the Tartar" 
Written by Earl Barret & Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Synopsis: West and Gordon are tasked with escorting Rimsky, Russian criminal, to Siberia for a prisoner exchange. When the prisoner is killed, Gordon hatches a plan to pose as Rimsky.

Trey: So do you think WWW still works...when they aren't even in the West?

Jim: I fear my answer to your question would involve major spoilers! But, in general, I feel like the "West" in the show is really more of an era designation than a place. Whether it works with more or less western tropes is sort of in the eye of the viewer.

Speaking of travel, I did like the effect they did when they were transported overseas. The semi-transparent, dreamy travel montage overlaid on top of a more clear, central scene of West drugged up. I think that's the first time we've seen that sort of thing in the show.

Trey: I think so, and given what gets revealed near the end of the episode, the dreamy/druggy eliding of the travel may have served a plot purpose, rather than just saving the budget and episode runtime.

Jim: True! But going back a little bit to the beginning,  I have a word of advice to any scientist, defecting spy, or whistleblowing politician who might find themselves under the protective care of West and Gordon: DUCK!

Seriously, these guys do not have a good track record for the safe delivery of people in their custody. I would love to see them working on their paperwork after some of their missions:  “Artie, does Man-Eating house need a hyphen?”

Trey: I feel like West and Gordon are remarkable good at not getting themselves killed, but are at best average for secret service agents in terms of not getting other people killed.

Jim: John Astin would not have been my first choice for playing a Russian Count, but his comical hamming is a good fit for this episode. 

Trey: Yeah, his accent is...well, sub-everyone else's, which is saying somethin--but his acting sold the self-important, wastrel of a Russian noble.

Jim: I was surprised by how quickly he was dispatched. 

Trey: Well, it was the end of the episode, but his end came swift within the scene. I don't know how else you'd do the knife-thrower's equivalent of an old fashion Western gunfight, except swift, though.

On another interesting casting tidbit, Susan Odin (Anastasia) was married to the director.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Gypsy Peril

"The Night of the Gypsy Peril" 
Written by Ken Kolb
Directed by Alan Crossland, Jr.
Synopsis: West and Gordon must infiltrate a troupe of traveling entertainers to regain a missing elephant at the center of an international incident.

Trey: So, to get the elephant (heh) in the room out of the way, this episode is another (like "Golden Cobra") that has some depictions that are of it's time, and not the sort of thing that would fly today. It's portrayal of the Romani people leans hard into some stereotypes. It's vaguely Arab folk aren't served any better.

Jim: Flashback Disclaimer: Anybody who wades into discussions of old television shows is eventually going to run afoul of all sorts of stereotypes. I suppose some argument could be made that television allowed for the exposure of different cultural perspectives which has gone a long way to undercutting such stereotypes, but we're not here to defend it, only to put it in it's context.

But yeah, these are the standard "Gypsies with Bronx accents" that were popular on television at this time.

Trey: All that said, the title is a bit misleading. The Romani aren't really the villains here. In fact, this episode zigs a lot when you think it might zag, which is perhaps its only saving grace.

Jim: The elephant is a cute addition, too. Its introduction and some of the dialogue at the beginning sort of sets the tone for this being a more comical episode. And again, I swear I heard some Gilligan's Island music cues in there!

It's dubious ethnic portrayals aside, this episode really charmed me. It reminded me of some humorous Bonanza episodes. And the plot with the competing factions of bandits and "gypsies" allowed for some fun deviations. (Artemis' ruse with the firecrackers, West's trapeze audition, the Gypsy Dance of Death, etc...)

Trey: Yeah, its got some fun stuff. This gang of robbers has to be the toughest West has ever faced. No matter what he does, there always seems to be one ready to get the drop on him in every single encounter!

Jim: Dr. Loveless should hire these guys!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Feathered Fury

"The Night of the Feathered Fury" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Robert Sparr
Synopsis: A woman offers to sell information to the government about Count Manzeppi. When she flees, Jim and Artie must unrival the mystery of a wind-up toy chicken that Manzeppi seems willing to kill over.

Trey: It's unfortunate that this is Manzeppi's last appearance. In some ways, I think it's a better episode than his first.

Jim: Again, the poor count has to deal with a disloyal female associate. Gerda runs to the government for protection, and West is pretty cynical about her lady in distress routine.

Trey: With good reason, as we soon see! If you notice, it's been a while since we had a full-fledged "girl of the week" romance interest for West. Those were much more common in Season One.

Gerda is played by Michelle Carey, probably best known for her role in the 1966 Western, El Dorado, which is known for being the second of three Westerns directed by Howard Hawks and written by Leigh Brackett where a sheriff and friends have to defend his office against an outlaw gang.

Jim: She was also in a lot of late 60s-70s TV. Back to Manzeppi: again he seems to display magical powers when he is turning on the lights in the train car. On a side note, it's sort of funny how many people end up appearing in the train car. 

Trey: They really need to get better locks. It happens so often, they seldom seem really surprised.

Jim: True! Overall, Manzeppi reminds me of early Silver Age appearances of Magneto in that he's supposedly capable of magic, but rather than ever use his abilities in any exciting way, he has cronies do all the hard work.

Trey: It's like that want a villain with magic powers, but they don't want a villain with magic powers. Manzeppi's associates are less interesting this time.

Jim: But they are sort of James Bond--as is the fate of Gerda. A definite homage to Goldfinger. Before that, though, I liked how Jim and Artie get her to turn on Manzeppi.

Trey: The humor is that is that he even lays out their plan for her (and lampshades the trope for the audience)! And so, as Manzeppi departs in a balloon, we say good-bye to Victor Buono on WWW.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Tottering Tontine

"The Night of the Tottering Tontine" 
Written by Norman Hudis & Elon Packard
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: West and Gordon are assigned to protect Dr. Raven, who is developing a secret weapon for the U.S. Government. Raven's life is in danger as members of a tontine he joined years ago are being killed off so the murder can inherit all their wealth.

Trey: They could have titled this one "And Then There Were None in the Wild Wild West," except that would have messed up the "The Night of..." convention. 

Jim: I'm a big fan of whodunits, so this riff on And Then There Were None really appealed to me. I particularly liked the round of introductions for each of the members of the tontine. There are were talented actors amongst the members (Robert Emhardt, Henry Darrow, Harry Townes).

Trey: It's a fine group of murder suspects! I liked this episode, too. Sure, It's a standard classic tv riff, but the house full of death traps gives it an adequate dose of WWW oddity.

Jim: I agree! The dark-hooded villains and death traps are just the touch that was needed. Question: After escaping the rocket car death trap in the mine shaft, West walks by what looks like a big circuit box on a wall. What the heck was that supposed to be? Was it actually a circuit box? I'm never sure how widespread electricity is in this time period.

Trey: It's an anachronism. 

Jim: At first I thought the seance was an anachronism, but apparently the practice was well established in America at this time with Mary Todd Lincoln being a fan.

Trey: Yeah, this would have been about the middle of the heyday of Spiritualism, I believe.

I got a question: Why would anyone hire are architect and give them free rein to the extent you wouldn't know that had built a secret railway and all sort of death traps into your house?

Jim: I'm Howard Roark, and I approved this message.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Lord of Limbo

"The Night of the Lord of Limbo" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Jesse Hibbs
Synopsis: When a stage magician makes Artemus really disappear, West's search for his missing partner leads him into a confrontation with a wheelchair-bound, former Confederate Captain, which a magical power and a score to settle.

Trey: Outside of the Manzeppi episodes (which get by with a figleaf of ambiguity and Victor Buono's performance), this may be my favorite "blatantly supernatural" episode of the series--and I think it handles the blatantly supernatural better than the Manzeppi episodes.

Jim: Well, that's a surprise! Why does this one get a pass?

Trey: It has a core, supernatural conceit that is explained in a reasonable enough fashion. It is almost more pseudo-scientific phenomena (or could easily be spun as such): "mental powers of the East!" Every instance of something supernatural happening in the episode easily falls under the provided explanation, and the events are considered highly unusual by the people that observe them.

Jim: Interesting! This episode was a mixed bag for me. Like a lot of my favorites, it had a villain who was had a "superpower." And as you point out, the explanation of how his powers worked were perfectly suited for the series, walking the line between the fantastic and science fictional, never pushing us too far into the realm of the magic. 

Trey: But?

Jim: The actual use of this super-power is a bit lacking. While the wavering, dreamlike transistions between were okay, once we are in the other realm, it's basically just a set change. Part of that is because the main plot doesn't really demand much in the way of setting changes, just time changes. But we end up with a 'battle scene' set inside a mansion! I would have preferred them being transferred to an actual battle, but that was probably way outside the budget. Still, I think a little more imagination could have made this limbo world more interesting. Star Trek would have done better!

Trey: Fair enough. I certainly don't want to appear to be praising it unduly. I feel like it is only a better than average episode, taken as a whole. It lacks the gadgetry and humor that seem to be essential ingredients of the truly classic episodes.

Still, there are good fight scenes in this--and Montalban makes for a great villain.

Jim: He is great. Another thing I like was the use of the unrepentant Confederates as the villains. I feel like the show works best when it leans on historical references.

Trey: Agreed.

Jim: The setup on this episode was good as well, with Artemis being gone for a good bit of the show, his return was actually a bit of a surprise to me. 

Trey: If they could surprise a jaded classic tv viewer like yourself, they were on to something.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Infernal Machine

"The Night of the Infernal Machine" 
Written by Shimon Wincelberg
Directed by Sherman Marks
Synopsis: West and Gordon protect a federal judge whose life may be threatened by an bomb-making anarchist.

Jim: This episode, felt like it was missing some of the hallmarks we've come to expect from the series.

Trey: Agreed. This episode lacks the peculiar magic of WWW. It's a negative example of what we were talking about last week. It's competent in all respects with a good cast, good action, a bit of humor, and stuff for both West and Gordon to do, but it feels flat because of its lack of anything weird.

It would be tempting to blame this on Lansbury and/or the suits at CBS, but this was actually a Garrison produced episode. It was filmed early in the season, but scheduled to air later. Clearly, even the execs found it lackluster, too.

Jim: That sounds right to me. Notice how we don't get a lot of colorful visuals (outside of Vashti's costume), either. 

Trey: Yes, it seems like its more pedestrian all the way around. But, let's not be completely negative. There was some good stuff here.

Jim: It features a nice dance routine, an element we had occasionally in Season One, but not this season. It's a welcomed addition.

Trey: Indeed. What else have you got?

Jim: The humorous enmity between Artie and the Chef was good.

Trey: One of the highlights of the episode. Go on!

Jim: The episode sets things up efficiently with the introduction of the Judge's gathering and the explanation for West's involvement.

Trey: Yes. You know, it almost felt like a pilot (or second pilot) in some ways. West and his expertise is introduced here, as is Gordon's.

Jim: Is this the first we've heard that Artie invented the explosive billiard ball in the train?

Trey: I think it is! Also, West and Gordon know each other, but they don't really display the buddy camaraderie we've seen in other episodes. 

Jim: All an all, a disappointing waste of a title that might have suggested something more Steampunk.


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